Omar Attum wins Fulbright Specialist Award

6th March 2020

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Omar Attum, associate professor of biology, has won a Fulbright Specialist Award from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Over two weeks in the summer of 2020, Attum will complete a project at the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan that aims to exchange knowledge and establish partnership benefiting participants, institutions and communities both in the U.S. and overseas through a variety of educational and training activities within biology education, according to the State Department.

More specifically, Attum’s project will help to develop a citizen science program to gain public participation in addressing Jordan’s pressing need to monitor coral bleaching and the status of endangered marine wildlife in the Red Sea near Aqaba.

Unlike the corals of the Great Barrier Reef, which are being devastated by bleaching caused by rising sea temperatures, the corals of the Red Sea appear to be resistant to warmer waters, making the study and conservation of the corals and the reef ecosystems they support an urgent priority.

The project will focus on the hawksbill sea turtle and the Napoleon hump head wrasse, both of which are considered indicators for the status of endangered species in Aqaba.

Attum plans to work with dive shops to educate tourists in basic monitoring procedures. Citizen science programs such as those devoted to birds, horseshoe crabs, frogs, wildflowers, and monarch butterflies not only allow nonprofessionals to gain skills and deepen their experience of nature, but they also deliver vast amounts of data, greatly aiding scientists and policymakers.

“Population monitoring of wildlife is vital to understand long-term population and distribution trends that are needed to make informed conservation-related decisions,” Attum said.

Attum will also review existing data sets and reports to determine which projects can be repeated and serve as baseline data, in order to monitor long-term ecological change in the Red Sea.

A log book will be created that JRED can distribute to volunteer dive guides and recreational divers, allowing them to register their observations and details about sites visited, dates, times of day, depth of water, strength of current, and so on.

For Attum, this sort of diver education is a critical component of sustainable tourism that allows for reef preservation in Aqaba.

“Education of stakeholders is vital to marine conservation because informed recreational visitors to coral reefs will be more likely to be concerned with the welfare of the reefs and avoid behaviors that could negatively impact them,” Attum said.

Besides offering students the opportunity to participate in the project this summer in Jordan, Attum will incorporate the experience in his lectures and labs on campus by showing students how citizen science programs can be used to assess the threats to life posed by climate change.

According to the State Department, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries.

Since 1946, the program has given more than 390,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to share international concerns. Awardees have gone on to win 60 Nobel Prizes and 86 Pulitzer Prizes, while 37 have served as heads of state.

Attum is one of only 400 U.S. citizens to participate in the Fulbright Specialist Program this year.

“The Fulbright Specialist Program is a highly competitive national competition, and scholars are selected based on their expertise and experience,” said Diane Wille, dean of research and director of graduate studies. “That Dr. Attum was selected for the Fulbright Specialist Roster and awarded this support is a direct indication of the outstanding faculty at IU Southeast.”

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